The Cold War Ends in Europe (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Apr 25, 2014

East Germany

Perhaps the most emotional and dramatic moment of the entire Cold War came on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.

Gorbachev had visited East Berlin in October. As he watched the East German crowds during an outdoor ceremony, he was amazed to hear them calling to him by name, appealing for help against their leaders. This was all the more astounding as the crowd was made of handpicked Communist Party activists. Clearly, the days of Communist rule in East Germany were numbered. A police crackdown took place a few days after the demonstration, but the government realized it could not stem the tide of popular resistance any longer.

Travel restrictions were relaxed in early November, and on the evening of the ninth, one ill-prepared official, flustered by a reporter’s question, announced that the new rules would “immediately” take effect at the border. East Berliners flooded to the wall checkpoints in such huge crowds that the guards could not hold them back. By midnight, young Germans were attacking the wall on both sides with sledgehammers and pickaxes, clambering to the top and pulling up their friends to dance and cheer alongside them. Berliners poured freely through the Brandenburg Gate in both directions for the first time since 1961. During the following weeks, border restrictions throughout Eastern Europe were removed, and easterners could freely travel to the West once again. In 1990, East and West Germany were officially and formally reunited under one government. After nearly fifty years, the Iron Curtain had come down.


Marshall Tito was a Communist, but he had such independent ideas that the Comintern actually expelled him from the Party. Tito governed Yugoslavia from 1945 until his death in 1980, managing to keep the mutually hostile forces of ethnic nationalism under control. In the great revolutionary year of 1989, however, civil war broke out, with Serbians wanting to dominate the power structure of the nation and Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Bosnia agitating for independence and self-determination. Fierce fighting among the various ethnic groups—Serbs against Croats, Bosnians against Serbs, Albanians against Serbs—continued through 1995. By 2008, Yugoslavia had broken into inde- pendent states—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia.

The Breakup of the Soviet Union

The USSR had instigated the Cold War; fittingly, it was the last European nation to let go of Communist rule. In 1991, Party leaders attempted a coup against Gorbachev, who had been losing popularity due to a severe economic crisis and the Communist Party’s dismay at the loss of influence in Europe. Additionally, the Baltic republics had been agitating for self-determination.

The actual coup attempt was inept and an embarrassing failure; however, it gave the western republics the opportunity to seize their independence. Gorbachev realized that he could no longer hold the Soviet Union together. In late 1991, all the Soviet republics became independent nation-states; all except Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia formed an association known as the Common- wealth of Independent States (CIS). This association was intended as a successor to the USSR, which was officially dissolved on December 31. Members of the CIS are entirely independent, self-governing nations. The CIS unites them for purposes of security, economics, internal and external trade, and justice.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Fall of Communism Practice Test

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